Lt. Richard W. Dowling's Report to Capt. Benjamin Odlum

Battle of Sabine Pass FORT GRIFFIN, Sabine Pass, September 9, 1863.
CAPTAIN: On Monday morning, about 2 o'clock, the enemy were signaling, and fearing an Attack, l ordered all the guns at the fort manned, and remained in that position until daylight, when there were two steamers evidently sounding for the channel on the bar; a large frigate outside. During the evening they were re-enforced to the number of twenty-two vessels of different classes.

On the morning of the 8th, the U.S. gunboat Clifton anchored opposite the light-house, and fired twenty-six shell at the fort, all in excellent range, one shell landing on the works and another striking the south angle of the fort without doing any material damage. The firing commenced at 6:30 o'clock and finished at 7:30 o'clock when the C. S. gunboat Uncle Ben steamed down near the fort. The U. S. gunboat Sachem opened on her with a 30-pounder Parrott gun. She fired three shots which passed over the fort and missed the Ben. The whole fleet then drew off, and remained out of range until 3:40 o'clock, when the Sachem and Arizona steamed into line up the Louisiana channel, the Clifton and one boat, name unknown, remaining at the junction of the two channels. I allowed the two former boats to approach within 1,200 yds, when I opened fire with the whole of my battery on the Sachem which, after the third or fourth round, hoisted the white flag, one of the shots passing through her steam drum. The Clifton in the meantime had attempted to pass up through Texas Channel, but receiving a shot which carried away her tiller rope, she became unmanageable and grounded about 500 yds. below the fort which enabled me to concentrate all my guns on her, two 32-pounder smooth-bores; two 24-pounder smooth-bores and two 32-pounder howitzers. She withstood our fire some 25 or 35 minutes, when she also hoisted a white flag. During the time she was aground, she used grape, and her sharpshooters poured an incessant shower of Minie balls into the works. The fight lasted from the time I fired the first gun until the boats surrendered - about three-quarters of an hour. l immediately boarded the captured Clifton, to inspect her magazines, accompanied by one the ship's officers and discovered it safe and well stocked with ordnance stores. l did not visit the magazine of the Sachem, not having any small boat to board her with. The C. S. gunboat Uncle Ben steamed down to the Sachem and towed her into the wharf Her magazine was destroyed by the enemy flooding it.

I was nobly and gallantly assisted by Lt. N. H. Smith, of the Engineer Corps, who by his coolness and bravery won the respect and admiration of the whole command. Ass't. Surg. George H. Bailey, having nothing to do in his own line, nobly pulled off his coat and assisted in administering Magruder pills to the enemy, behaving with great coolness. During the engagement the works were visited by Capt. F. H. Odlum, commanding post; Maj. (Col. ) Leon Smith, commanding Marine Department of Texas. Capt. W. S. Good, ordnance officer, and Dr. Murray, acting ass't. surgeon, with great coolness and gallantry, enabled me to send re-enforcements, as the men were becoming exhausted by the rapidity of our fire; but before they could accomplish their mission, the enemy surrendered. Thus, it will be seen we captured with 47 men two gunboats, mounting thirteen guns of the heaviest caliber, and about 350 prisoners. All my men behaved like heroes; not a man flinched from his post. Our motto was "victory or death." I beg leave to make particular mention of Private M Michael McKernan, who, from his well-known capacity as a gunner, l assigned as gunner, and nobly did he do his duty. It was his shot struck the Sachem in her steam drum. Too much praise cannot be awarded Maj. (Col.) Leon Smith for his activity and energy in saving and bringing the vessel into port.

I have the honor, captain, to remain in your most obedient servant,

R. W. Dowling, 1st. Lt., Cook's Artillery.


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